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Iconoclasm – Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt Argues against Images (1522)

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Therefore you confess other gods. I heal you and [bear] your [sorrows]. I have nourished them and carried them in my hands and they have not known that I have healed them and borne their sorrows (Hosea 11[:3]). I have redeemed them and they have spoken lies against me. I have taught them and strengthened their arms and they imagine mischief against me (Hosea 7[:13,15]). I have nourished them and raised them up, but they scorn me.

The ox knows his owner and the dull-witted ass the master’s crib. But Israel (that is my people) knows me not and my people do not understand the good I have done for them. Alas for the sinful nation (Isaiah 1[:2–4]). I cannot deny, but must confess, that God might in all justice say to our supposed Christians what he said to the Jews. For they run to the idols like crows and ravens after a carcass and fly to a lifeless cadaver. They seek them in particular places, such as Wilsnack in the Brandenburg Mark, Grimmenthal, Rome, and similar places. They bring them tools, silver, gold, wax, and goods as if they were their gods who have delivered them, who have protected them and they are far blinder than the ox in Leipzig or the ass in n.n. who indeed know what good is given them and form whom it comes. So they invoke idols in the house of God and seek health, support, and counsel from insensate dummies. And the people vilify God in his house, which is a good and important enough reason to drag idols out of the churches. Not to mention that many a man doffs his cap, which he would wear if his man-made god were not before him. I do not regard it lightly that they bend a knee before the saints. I say more of this in what follows.*

That to assume a posture of veneration before pictures is contrary to the first commandment no one should have to learn from me, but, rather, should learn from Scripture. In Exodus 20[:3] it is written: Thou shalt have no other gods. That is to say, you should not attribute the goodness, support, grace, mercy, and forbearance of God to any other but the true God. Learn that through an example: God led the Jews out of Egypt and delivered them from the chains of servitude. They should have attributed that same goodness to no other god. But they made a calf and said: These are the gods of Israel which have led you out of Egypt (Exodus 32[:4]).**

That calf was an alien god that had not freed the Jews, and they nevertheless said that it had led them out of Egypt. Thus all men make alien gods when they ascribe the benefits they have received to any but the true God. This is what grieves God himself over and over again in Scripture, as I have said above. That is the reason for which God reproaches Israel: that they chose a king (1 Sam. 8[:4–10]; Hosea 13[:1–2]).

One can make a man into an alien god. A man can proclaim himself to be an alien god, as it is written. Cursed is the man who puts his faith in a man and strengthens his arm. But blessed is the man who puts his hope in God, whose hope is the Lord (Jeremiah 17[:5–7]). That is the reason the Prophets again and again bind themselves with an oath, saying: I will not place my trust in my bow, and my sword will not save me [Psalm 43:7]. You shall not put confidence in princes [Psalm 117:9]. They say this because they will not make any other god and because they want no image in their hearts. They want to confess him alone who cannot be depicted. For God cannot tolerate that.

* Karlstadt does not always distinguish between the issue of images and the cult of the saints. The medieval Church had justified images primarily because they helped the faithful to be mindful of the saints and it is natural therefore that Karlstadt, in his zeal to attack anything that stands between man and God, was sometimes not able to separate the two problems.
** The verses on idolatry in the decalogue (Ex. 20:4–5) were omitted in medieval catechisms because they were believed to apply exclusively to the Jews of the Old Testament. Luther accepted this tradition, as did, of course, the Catholic Church. Karlstadt, like Zwingli and Calvin after him, believed instead that the commandment against images was valid for Jews and Christians alike.

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